Leadership Theories, Styles, and Applications

A leader’s success largely depends on the style of leadership employed. Given the dynamism of today’s corporate climate, most executives believe there is no single style of leadership that can be used consistently in all scenarios (Xu, 2017). An increasing body of evidence suggests that a leadership style may be helpful in one setting but unsuccessful in another (El Toufaili, 2018). Leadership in this context refers to a social influence technique that leverages the actions of others to attain a set objective. This paper analyzes different types of leadership and their application context with an emphasis on situational leadership theory, contingent leadership theory, autocratic leadership as well as democratic leadership.

One of the most significant challenges faced by managers nowadays is the choice of leadership style to apply. Situational leadership theory concurs that a one-size-fits-all leadership style is non-existent (Xu, 2017). The style of leadership and techniques that are most appropriate for a situation largely factor in the effectiveness of a leadership style. Successful managers know where and when to apply a particular leadership style. They change leadership styles in line with factors such as characteristics of the team and tasks assigned.

The situational theory is important in deciding the type of leadership to employ in a given situation. Dinibutun (2020), in a review of the situational theory by Hersey and Blanchard, highlighted that there exist four basic leadership styles, which are telling, selling, participating, and delegating. In the telling style of leadership, a leader informs people what is to be done and how it is to be done. In the selling style of leadership, the leader “sells” his thoughts to his subjects, and they get to buy or reject the ideas. Participating style of leadership involves more decision-making authority on the part of the subjects rather than the leaders. In this technique, a leader gives fewer directives and encourages team members to contribute more ideas and make decisions. The delegating style of leadership is defined by a less active, hands-off demeanor. The majority of decisions are made by the team members, and they bear the burden of repercussions for these decisions made.

It is important to consider the qualities of followers to whom the leadership style is being enforced. Hersey and Blanchard (1997) further argue that the choice of leadership style depends on the level of maturity of the followers. To this effect, they classified maturity into four distinct levels. M1 defines the first level of maturity in which the followers lack the necessary skills, abilities, and motivation to execute an assignment. M2 defines the second level of maturity in which followers are eager and energetic but generally lack the necessary skills. M3, which represents the third maturity level, contains followers with the required skills and abilities to execute the work but who refuse to accept responsibility. M4, on the other hand, as the fourth level of maturity, contains followers who are highly skilled and eager to achieve the objectives.

Each situational leadership style needs to be matched with the appropriate level of maturity. Hersey and Blanchard (1997) outline that the telling style of leadership is most appropriate for followers with the M1 maturity level. Conversely, the selling style of leadership is suitable for followers with an M2 level of maturity. Likewise, participating style of leadership is appropriate for M3 type of followers, and delegating style of leadership should be applied for followers with an M4 level of maturity. I can concur with this line of thought since I believe that people who can possess high levels of maturity and are capable of making the right decisions and delegating tasks would be best in the situation. In addition, people with low levels of maturity, like children, need to be told what to do, and that is why telling is the best style of leadership for such a situation.

Concerning the situational theory, autocratic leadership is most appropriate in a situation where followers have low levels of maturity in that they lack the necessary knowledge and ability to execute tasks. This is useful in environments like schools that host minors who are incapable of making decisions on their own. Also, in a work environment, it could be applied to engage new employees who may not possess the necessary experience to do certain tasks. Democratic leadership, on the other hand, is most appropriate for people who possess high levels of maturity in that they have the necessary skills, experience, and willingness to execute tasks (Ayman & Lauritsen, 2018). This can be employed in a work environment where the employees possess almost equal levels of experience and are willing to share ideas to help achieve a common goal.

The success of a leader’s behavior is dependent on situational factors. This provides the foundation of Fred E. Fiedler’s contingency theory of leadership, which he established in 1951 (Lussier, 2017). Contingency theory emphasizes the role played by situations in settling for a leadership style. Contingency and situational theories, however, have differing perspectives and attitudes on the responsibility of leaders (Lussier, 2017). The proper leader should complement the correct scenario, according to contingency theory, whereas the situational approach claims that a leader is supposed to adjust his or her management style to the situation at hand. Contrary to the situational theory, the contingency model asserts that leaders need not modify their styles of leadership.

The success of a leadership style depends on several factors. The contingency theory by Fiedler proposes that successful leadership is dependent not just on the leader’s style but also on the level of control he or she has over the circumstance (bin Heli, 2021). Good leader-member relationships are also required for leadership success. These leaders must also clearly convey tasks, including goals and methods. They must also have the capacity to administer penalties and incentives. Contingency theory classifies leaders into task-oriented leaders and people-oriented leaders using the least preferred co-worker (LPC) scale (bin Heli, 2021). This theory is most suitable for situations where individuals are actively monitored, like in schools.

In my school life, I have had the chance to experience different types of leadership, both at home and in the school environment. At home, my parents enforce an authoritative type of leadership, whereby my siblings and I are supposed to follow their vision and directives. They also take time to explain what is expected of us and give guidelines on how to execute tasks. In the execution of school assignments, we are subjected to a democratic style of leadership, especially in voting our representatives in various coursework groups.

It is quite challenging for managers to choose the right leadership style in different contexts. To assist managers in solving this challenge, the situational and contingency theories provide guidelines that assist managers in knowing which style is appropriate in diverse situations. The theories emphasize choosing a different leadership style in all unique situations as a one-size-fits-all leadership style is non-existent. This calls for managers to first assess the situation before enforcing any form of leadership, and this forms the basis for successful leadership.


Ayman, R., & Lauritsen, M. (2018). Contingencies, context, situation, and leadership. Web.

bin Heli, H. (2021). A Review Of The Educational Leaderships Theory For Special Education Perspective. Turkish Journal of Computer and Mathematics Education (TURCOMAT), 12(11), 5217-5223.

Dinibutun, S. R. (2020). Leadership: A Comprehensive review of literature, research, and theoretical framework. Research and Theoretical Framework. Web.

El Toufaili, B. (2018). The influence of subjective factors on the development of the transformational style of leadership. Revista de Management Comparat Internațional, 19(2), 124-135. Web.

Hersey, P., & Blanchard, K. H. (1997). Situational leadership. In Dean’s Forum (Vol. 12, No. 2, p. 5).

Lussier, R. N. (2017). Management fundamentals: Concepts, applications, and skill development. Sage Publications.

Xu, J. H. (2017). Leadership theory in clinical practice. Chinese Nursing Research, 4(4), 155-157. Web.

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